When crop scientist Tawina Kamanga won the AWARD Fellowship she knew the world has unlimited opportunities which she just has to jump at. She shares with EDYTH KAMBALAME her hopes to become a better agriculturalist (chief irrigation officer), mother, and nurturing her philanthropic side.
Who is Tawina Kamanga?
I was born Tawina Jane Kopa on 7th July 1979 to Margaret Veronica and Joseph Ackim Kopa. My mum is from Likoma while my dad from Ntchisi. I am second born in a family of six children. I have two sisters (Chinsinsi and Agnes) and three brothers (Allan, Pilirani and Limbani). I was raised in a Christian family – Anglican. I grew up believing that men and women have the same capabilities.
Tell us about your educational background?
I hold a Master of Science degree in Management of Natural Resources and Sustainable Agriculture (MNRSA) from the University of Life Sciences in Norway, 2007 and a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture (Crop Science) obtained from Bunda College of Agriculture in 2001.
Why crop science?
It was the discipline least favoured by women. In fact, we were only three women in a class of eighteen students. During the same year I graduated, I got a job with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, in the Department of Irrigation, as an irrigation officer. In fact, I had two options, either to join the Department of Crop Production and become a crops officer or to join Irrigation Department. I opted for the latter for the simple but rich reason that there were few women irrigation officers then (the situation has not changed much today). The other reason for opting for irrigation was the thought of spending more time in the field with rural communities, which turned out to be the case.
What challenges have you faced in this field?
In August 2001, I got admitted into a masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s programme at Bunda College of Agriculture to study Weed Science and Crop Protection. Unfortunately, about six months into the programme, I became a victim of gender based violence in a student/supervisor relationship. I endured for slightly over six months hoping that things would get better. I quit and withdrew in September 2002 and went back to work full time while praying and hoping that I would have a second chance to do my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.
How did you feel when you were selected for the Award fellowship?
I felt like a woman who had just given birthÃ¢â‚¬â€œrelieved and contented. I knew that my life had opened up to a world of unlimited possibilities. I knew at that moment that the onus is on me to make the most of this fellowship by utilising both the Award propelling features and the supporting mechanisms.
What is AWARD?
African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) is a professional development programme that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Award is a project of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural ResearchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Gender & Diversity Programme, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. Award offers two-year fellowships focused on mentoring partnerships, science skills, and leadership development. The fellowships are awarded on the basis of intellectual merit, leadership capacity, and the potential of the scientistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s research to improve the daily lives of smallholder farmers, especially women.
What are you hoping to learn from Award?
The benefits of being an Award fellow are enormous. But in a nutshell, I would say the Award Fellowship presents a great opportunity for me to fast-track my career in irrigation and water management focusing on gender and rights. It is a very conducive atmosphere for increasing my visibility and networking as the programme has put me on the global limelight.
How do you manage to balance work and family?
My main strength though is that I have cultivated a very strong family support system through sharing of information and being open and honest to my husband. For example, I produce a “to-do list” every day which I share with him so that as I go about my business, he knows where I am and what I am doing. This kind of prepares him psychologically. I always make time for him and our son by structuring my work demands.
Did you have big dreams as a child?
When I was about four years, I was asked by my teacher what I wanted to become when I grew up. I remember to have answered her that I wanted to go to university and also have a white wedding. When I was in Standard Eight, my dream was to become a pilot for a simple reason that by staying close to the airport, I knew two airport professions, namely, air hostess and pilot. And since pilot was senior and seemingly male profession, it appealed to me. Then another big dream came in the picture when I was in Form 1 and was introduced to John Grisham and Sydney Sheldon novels. I dreamt of becoming a lawyer because I was impressed with the way lawyers influenced court decisions in these crimes and justice novels. I felt lawyers ruled the world.
What does your job entail?
In simple language, my job as chief irrigation officer heading an Irrigation Services Division is to reach rural communities with irrigation for household food security, poverty alleviation and socio-economic empowerment.
What significant change have you brought to the agricultural industry?
I can point my success to the time I headed Mzuzu Irrigation Services Division (Mzuzu ISD) where I worked for almost three years from November 2007. During my leadership, Mzuzu ISD registered over 100 percent increase in area under irrigation pushing it from about 4 700 hectares to over 9 000 hectares.
What are your guiding principles?
he first one is that I should always remember that every human being is unique and should be treated as such Ã¢â‚¬â€œ never lump people in one basket and have a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœone size fits allÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ kind of approach to the way you handle them. I personally maintain high standards of integrity and honesty because I feel answerable to humanity. My second guiding principle is working as if I had only today to prove that I can deliver. Final and overarching principal is to keep my mind free from hate and grudge and fill my heart with love and tolerance Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it costs nothing to smile.
Who inspires you?
In terms of organisation and leadership styles, I am inspired by my mum. She immensely amazes me – very intelligent with excellent interpersonal and organisational skills. She has never been employed in her life but she is widely consulted by people from all walks of life. I am also inspired by Etta MÃ¢â‚¬â„¢mangisa who works as Programme analyst-energy and environment at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malawi Office. As regards my quest for science and research proficiency, I am inspired by Professor Victor Chipofya, a Senior Research Fellow and lecturer in the Department of Water and Environmental Engineering at the Polytechnic.
Any future ambitions, dreams to be achieved?
I plan to have my second baby, preferably a girl, soon. Career-wise, I want to pursue a doctoral programme in the area of gender and rights in irrigation water management. I want to set up an organization called Ã¢â‚¬ËœTeams for Advancement of Women in Irrigation and Agriculture (TAWINA)Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ with a mission to advocate for adolescent girlsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rights in education, health and agriculture-based livelihoods, and womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s access to and control of water and related resources in irrigation systems. Finally, but not least, I want to become a global leader in gender and rights in irrigation water management. If I have this, plus my beloved husband, son and family, I have it all!